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The holiday season is here! I’m thankful for all the people who are making good happen in schools in juvenile justice facilities, even in tough circumstances.  In this letter I’m going to put all of my frustrations with policies that make it nearly impossible to run good schools in secure facilities aside, and I’m not going to think about all the adults who just don’t care about our kids and who consider them less, different and unworthy.  For a few minutes, I’m only going to focus on people who are making good, and be thankful that they show up, work hard and make good things happen for kids who are locked up. In this letter we salute them.


Making Good Happen with Technology in the Classroom


Many of you are familiar with the maker-space movement taking hold across the country.  If you have elementary age children, you have probably heard about 3D printing, participated in a cardboard challenge with your kids (where you build arcade games just using cardboard and left-over ‘junk’), and you might have even attempted to program by participating in the Hour of Code.  In high schools across the country, students are learning how to code, program, and tinker around with electronics, circuit boards and virtual devices—and not just in computer science and physics classes.  


Well, at CEEAS, we believe that young people who are locked up deserve the chance to make and create, too.  So, in August, we held a five-day technology boot camp for 50 plus teachers from schools in juvenile justice facilities.  We sent each teacher back to school with a Maker-Space Starter Kit (funded by a handful of donors).  Each kit included a 3D printer, Makey Makey Device, Leap Motion, and a Little Bits Synth Kit. Each teacher had been trained on how to use these tools during the tech camp, and had also been exposed to programming using Scratch, an animation software developed out of MIT.


Over the last few months, teachers have done some incredible work with students using their maker-space tools and newfound programming skills.  Many of their facility directors, principals and agency leaders have supported their efforts by changing restrictive and out-of-date policies limiting Internet access and technology use. Together, they have enabled students to tinker, create, problem solve and design.  Below are a few highlights.


One teacher wanted his students to be able to get the same experience that is available using Google’s Cardboard Virtual Reality Headsets.  (Some of you may have received one of these sets with your subscription to the New York Times a few Sundays back). With the headset, you can be fully immersed in a museum visit, or accompanying a family fleeing from Syria. The teacher, however, faced a dilemma—the headsets are built to fit onto a cellphone, but he couldn’t bring a cellphone into his facility.  He does, though, have some small tablets that he uses in his classes, so he put the challenge to his students—design a headset to fit the tablet that they could print out on their 3D printer.  Here’s what happened:


One student jumped all over it! She had a rough design in the first couple of days. What we did then is printed a scaled down prototype about 20% of the actual size, just to make sure everything printed correctly the way it was oriented before we print the big one. Right now we are working on the 2nd iteration, making sure that the eyepieces are properly spaced in the design, so the cardboard will interact with the app on the tablet properly.

Another teacher launched a campaign to help him purchase additional Little Bits Kits (wireless circuits and electronics) to help him develop a robotics and aeronautics module where students can take their coding work and bring it to life off the screen.


Click here to read more about his project.


Hundreds of teachers across the country had their students participate in Start from Scratch, our nationwide programming and animation competition that ran in October and November.  This year, students created animations focused on the theme of Transformation. This year’s winner was a student from the St. Anthony’s Youth Facility in Idaho. His comments about learning to program using Scratch, mimic what we often hear—that programming and coding sounds dry and boring, but that it can be fun, creative and challenging, particularly when the programming content is engaging and relevant. He told us:


When I started doing Scratch I thought it was going to be some boring computer program and would be a waste of my time.  But I found that Scratch is very helpful.  I never would have thought about doing programming but now that I have, I would like to explore more in computer animation.


Click here if you want to watch some of the winning animations from this year’s contest.


In South Carolina, one of our Teaching Fellows had her classes participate in last week’s Hour of Code initiative.  After participating in the class and creating an animation developed around Disney’s movie Frozen, one of her students wrote:


I do have to be honest, code programming was a lot of work at times and was kind of difficult. But I learned how to do it and I now have a new skill… Being able to do that kind of stuff is great and makes me feel good.  I feel smarter and like I have done something good for myself. I’m way proud of myself.  I’ve got something new I can do.


Teachers have also been using technology to make good happen in other ways, as well. In South Carolina, another teacher, Rebecca Callaway, wanted to teach her kids Shakespeare, and thought the “No Fear Shakespeare” books and curricular materials would help make the readings work better for her students.  But she needed the books and supplies.  Instead of just being frustrated about not having the materials, she made the books appear—by posting her project on and getting it funded. I’m not sure what drove Rebecca to make this happen for her kids, but I think it’s because she believes in them and their inherent goodness.  Here’s what she says:


My students are bright and, at times, hilarious. They take life for what it is, and they never shy away from telling you how they feel. Their ideas and thoughts have altered my perception of them. In my eyes, they are not criminals. These children have the capacity to achieve greatness.


Click here to read more about her No Fear Shakespeare project.


Teachers are also using technology to make digital platforms for students to share their feelings, express themselves and highlight their talents. Until recently, it would have been nearly unheard of for students in juvenile justice facilities to be able to post comments and share art and poetry with others online, using blogs and open digital platforms.  But teachers are making it possible and students are writing, drawing and designing.  Click here to read what students taking a computer science class (yes, a computer science class inside of a juvenile justice facility) in Wyoming are saying about their experience. Or check out More Than The Streets to see what students from DC are saying through prose, poetry, photography and art.


Making Good Stuff for You, Our Readers


One of the most amazing aspects of recent advances in place-based micro-fabrication—using 3D printing, laser cutters and other tools—is that just about anyone who has access to to the Internet and an inexpensive fabrication tool can use their creativity to design and manufacture on demand products.  We informally tested this out last week. We asked a handful of teachers who have 3D printers in their classrooms if they would be interested in having their students design holiday ornaments that we could share with our readers.  We gave them 72 hours and told them that if we received some high quality prototypes back that we’d select them, share them in this end-of-year newsletter, and send them off to friends of CEEAS.  Well, not surprisingly, students were interested, the teachers supported them.  We selected 3 designs and ‘printed’ a select number of each of the winning designs. If you’d like a holiday ornament, designed and manufactured by a student in a juvenile justice facility, just click here.  We’ll take your order and send you one at no cost. We are taking orders until we’ve sent out the 75 we are making for this year’s test run.


Click to order ornaments:


Closing out the Year with More Goodness: Sending Some Love


As many of you know, each year we also sponsor an initiative, Sending Some Love, where students in juvenile justice facilities select a holiday book, read and record it, and then send the book and an audio recording of the book home.  That project is finishing up this week.  We will send out a follow-up note on December 22nd that will include a link to a playlist of recordings—all read by students in juvenile justice facilities.  I hope that you will open that email and listen to some of the recordings.


Here’s to making good happen all year long-


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